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May 16, 2008, 09:07 AM ET

A 'Frozen' Wikipedia Could Be Better for College, Founder Says

Cambridge, Mass. — Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, has been outspoken about his view that his creation, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, should not be used in academic settings, especially by students writing papers. One reason is that any given entry “could change instantly and not have a final vetting process,” said Mr. Wales in an interview Thursday at a conference on the future of the Internet, held at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

But the popular encyclopedia may soon add a new feature that would allow Wikipedia entries to be “cited more comfortably” by students and professors, he said. The feature would allow a version of a Wikipedia article to be frozen and approved by experts.

The German-language edition of Wikipedia has recently been experimenting with a similar feature, though so far it has only used to flag entries as being free from vandalism rather than certified by content specialists. “Later, it could have a flag that says ‘This version is one that a committee has actually vetted,’” he said. “We’d still allow further editing, but if you really wanted a version that as of three months ago we had three Ph.D.‘s look at it, and they checked it off as being good, we may move in that direction.”

Mr. Wales stressed that no final decision has been made on whether or not to create such expert-approved versions of Wikipedia pages. “The software is evolving in a direction that would allow the community to come up with ways of doing that,” he said.

Even so, he said, in most cases even an improved Wikipedia won’t be as appropriate for students as other sources. “What I always encourage students to do especially, is don’t think of Wikipedia as a source, think of Wikipedia as background knowledge.” —Jeffrey R. Young

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